Mandela and the building of a Constitutional Democracy
Today we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy and remember the vision that he had for the Rainbow Nation of South Africa.
We also remember that it was his vision, and the work of many others that led to the historical moment on 10 December 1996 that, Nelson Mandela, as South Africa’s first democratically elected President signed the final draft of South Africa’s Constitution into law to be effective from 3 February 1997. This is the foundation on which South Africa’s Constitutional Democracy rests.
The Constitution is the supreme legal document of the Republic of South Africa and enshrined in it are the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, good governance and peace. In line with these values and principles it protects the rights of all citizens and has provisions to hold political leaders accountable so that we are no longer subjects of an authoritarian regime but instead active citizens in a constitutional democracy.
The Constitution is an integration of ideas from the all-inclusive Constitutional Assembly, as well as ordinary citizens, civil society and political parties who were consulted in a process which was considered the largest public participation programme ever carried out in South Africa. The Constitution is therefore said to have been arrived at by general agreement and represents the collective wisdom of the South African people.
The fight for democracy in overcoming the struggle against Apartheid was Nelson Mandela’s life work and the Constitution is a huge part of the legacy he has left to South Africa.
As we celebrate Mandela Day we thought we would share some of his words on the Constitution, the rule of law and our democracy:
“Without democracy there cannot be peace.” – Nelson Mandela
“It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.” – Nelson Mandela
“The apartheid regime had put law and order in disrepute… Because of this crude practice, and out of my own convictions, I exploited every opportunity to promote respect for law and order and for the judiciary.” – Nelson Mandela
“All these considerations, as important as they may be, should never be allowed to undermine our democratic Constitution, which guarantees unqualified citizenship rights to all South Africans … It has a bill of rights on which a citizen can rely if any of his or her rights are threatened or violated. All of us, without exception, are called upon to respect that Constitution.”- Nelson Mandela
“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favour. It must enjoy the protection of the Constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”- Nelson Mandela
“Since my release, I have become more convinced than ever that the real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom.”- Nelson Mandela
“The task at hand will not be easy, but you have mandated us to change South Africa from a land in which the majority lived with little hope, to one in which they can live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in the future.” – 10 May 1994. Speech at his inauguration as President of South Africa – Nelson Mandela
“We tried in our simple way to lead our life in a manner that may make a difference to those of others.”- Nelson Mandela
“As we close a chapter of exclusion and a chapter of heroic struggle, we reaffirm our determination to build a society of which each of us can be proud, as South Africans, as Africans, and as citizens of the world. As your first democratically elected President I feel honoured and humbled by the responsibility of signing into law a text that embodies our nation’s highest aspirations.” – Speech upon signing the Constitution, 1996 – Nelson Mandela
Read the full speech made by President Nelson Mandela at the signing of the Constitution at Sharpeville on the 10 December 1996 here.
Read the Republic of South Africa fact sheet: Celebrating 20 years of the Constitution.